Thorn in His Side by Helen Juliet (audiobook) – Narrated by Kieran Flitton

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

The last thing beautiful, inexperienced Joshua Bellamy wants is an arranged marriage with the terrifying Darius Legrand. But if Joshua wants to save himself and his family from being thrown onto the streets by Darius’s father, he has no choice.

However, when Darius goes to extreme lengths to rescue Joshua from near-death, Joshua has to wonder if there’s more to his beastly husband than he previously thought.

Darius Legrand, a former captain, is used to being manipulated by his cruel father, but when Joshua is dragged into the feud between their families, he decides something has to change.

Protecting Joshua is one thing, but Darius knows that falling in love can’t be an option. Someone so young and beautiful could never give his heart to an older, ill-tempered brute like Darius.

Joshua is determined to bring joy to Darius’s life again, and Darius refuses to let Joshua hide his sweetness from the world any longer. Over time, it becomes clear that despite their differences, their hearts are drawing closer together.

But can happiness ever be possible for a rose and a thorn, when Darius’s father will go to any lengths to see his deadly game through?

Rating: Narration – B; Content – D+

Helen Juliet’s A Thorn in His Side is an m/m retelling of Beauty and the Beast, but it’s a bit of a mess right from the start.  To begin with, the setting is confusing.  I did read the synopsis before opting to review it and the setting wasn’t mentioned, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t expecting it to be a fantasy or some sort of AU historical (AU because there’s no problem with a gay marriage) – but no, it’s 21st century Kent.   But this version of 21st century Kent, not too far from Folkestone is somewhere remote and off the grid with no mobile signal or internet.  Um.  Okay. But the hero is an adult, and rich enough to live in a castle… he can’t pick up the landline to Virgin, BT or Sky?   Anyway, he’s our Beast figure.  Darius Legrand  is a heavily scarred, thirty-seven-year-old military veteran who lives in the aforementioned  castle in the wilds of Kent, has plenty of money of his own (an inheritance from his late mother) and who is, for some reason I couldn’t understand, terrified of his father – who comes and goes as he pleases – and puts up no fight whatsoever against his nefarious schemes.

Beauty is Joshua Bellamy (BELL-amy – geddit?) the twenty-one year old, totally gorgeous son of a business associate of Victor Legrand’s and when his father suffers some disastrous losses, Joshua agrees to marry Darius in order to prevent their being made destitute; Darius marries Joshua because… er… his dad told him to?  Joshua is slightly built and worries he’s not very ‘manly’ – he’s also like the worst kind of simpering romance heroine who cries a lot, indulges in weepy hand-wringing and thinks of her incredible beauty as something of a curse.  Oh, and he’s a virgin.

So we’ve got the scarred veteran who thinks there’s no way such a beautiful young man could possibly be interested in him, and the beautiful young man who, after being a bit scared of his new husband, starts to discover a softer side to him while also wondering if such a piece of hunky hawtness could possibly fancy a l’il femmy guy like him.

And then there’s the baddie.  Victor Legrand is… well comparing him to a pantomime villain is, frankly, an insult to pantomime villains everywhere.  He seems to be present in the story for no other reason than to be the evilest evil that ever evilled.

It’s very rare for me to DNF a book or audiobook I’ve agreed to review, but I gave up at around 70%, which I consider to be enough of a sample to justify my comments.  I only stuck with it that long because I wanted to give new-to-me narrator Kieran Flitton a fair crack of the whip.  His performance is easily the best thing about this audiobook, and I would definitely listen to him again, although – hopefully – in better material.  His voice is attractive, his diction is clear and easy to understand and while his pacing is perhaps the teeniest bit on the slow side, it wasn’t really an issue.  His character differentiation is good and his vocal characterisations suit the characters with Darius speaking in deeper, resonant tones while Joshua’s voice is higher pitched and he’s more softly spoken.  Some of his European (?) accents are a bit dodgy, and there were some pronunciation issues which should have been picked up;  “monsieur” (it’s “m’sieu”);  Folkestone (it’s “st’n” not “stone” at the end)  and the pronunciation of Darius as “Daah-rius” while it might have been correct (although I’m not sure), was extremely irritating.  Where Mr. Flitton really excels is in the quieter moments and intimate scenes between Darius and Joshua, and the love scenes are extremely well done (Shane East – look out, you’ve got some serious competition in the sexy Brit department!)

As is obvious, I can’t recommend Thorn in His Side; the idea was a good one, but the execution is severely lacking.  I recently enjoyed a couple of the audiobooks in the Pine Cove series by Ms. Juliet’s alter-ego, H.J. Welch and had hoped for more of the same, but what I found instead was a story that moved slower than a snail through molasses and smelled far more of elderly cheese than roses.

 

The Bachelor by (Duke Dynasty #2) by Sabrina Jeffries (audiobook) – Narrated by Beverley A. Crick


This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Lady Gwyn Drake has long protected her family’s reputation by hiding an imprudent affair from her youth. But when her former suitor appears at Armitage Hall, manhandling the heiress and threatening to go public with her secrets, it’s Gwyn who needs protecting. Her twin brother, Thorn, hires Joshua Wolfe, the estate’s gamekeeper, to keep her safe in London during her debut. As a war hero, Joshua feels obligated to fulfill the assignment he has accepted. But as a man, it’s torment to be so very close to the beauty he’s fought to ignore….

With handsome Joshua monitoring her every move, Gwyn would prefer to forget both the past and the parade of money-seeking bachelors at her coming out. But Joshua is unmoved by her attempts at flirtation, and the threat of blackmail still hangs over her. With danger closing in, Gwyn must decide which is the greater risk: deflecting a scoundrel’s attempts to sabotage her – or revealing her whole heart to the rugged bodyguard she can’t resist….

Rating: Narration – B; Content – D

The Bachelor is book two in Sabrina Jeffries’ Duke’s Dynasty series, which features the offspring of a duchess who was married three times, to three different dukes. I’d planned to review book one, Project Duchess, when it came out last year, but problems with my review copy meant I wasn’t able to finish it. I believe there are overarching plotlines relating to a mystery begun in book one, but those don’t come into play here until fairly late on and don’t have any real bearing on the central storyline or romance.

I’ve read and listened to a number of books by this author and have enjoyed them, but unfortunately, I can’t say the same of The Bachelor, which is short on plot, shorter on romantic chemistry and long on boredom.

The heroine of this book is Lady Gwyn Drake, twin sister of the Duke of Thornstock and the only female of the duchess’ five children. Gwyn and her brother have spent most of their lives in Berlin and returned to England only recently; she is thirty-years-old and doesn’t expect to marry, but as the sister of a newly-minted duke, is preparing to make her début in London society. When the book opens, she has agreed to meet with a former… er… acquaintance, Lionel Malet, in response to the letter he sent demanding money to keep quiet about the secrets which could ruin her good name. It’s not explicitly stated at this stage what those secrets are, but it’s easy to guess.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Master’s New Governess by Eliza Redgold

This title may be purchased from Amazon

A new position for the governess

As mistress of Pendragon Hall?

Unfairly dismissed from her previous position, her reputation ruined, governess Maud Wilmot is forced to take on a new identity. When she feels an ever-growing attraction to her new employer, Cornish railway entrepreneur Dominic Jago, Maud longs to reveal the truth. But doing so could end their fledgling romance before it’s truly begun…

Rating: D

Harlequin Historical has a fairly good track record and has a number of my favourite authors on its roster, so I picked up new-to-me author Eliza Redgold’s The Master’s New Governess in hopeful anticipation of another enjoyable, romantic read. But I was sadly disappointed. What I found instead was a dully plodding story, bland, barely two-dimensional characters and a romance that never got off the ground.

The position of a governess could be a very uncomfortable and insecure one, something brought home to Miss Maud Wilmot when she is dismissed from her position without a character for reasons which are merely alluded to, but which are easy to work out. Without references, she will not be able to secure another post, but as luck would have it, her sister Martha – who is recently married – had secured a situation in Cornwall prior to her marriage and has not yet written to decline it. So – with Martha’s full knowledge – Maud (pretending to be Martha) writes to Sir Dominic Jago of Pendragon Hall to accept the position as governess to his seven-year-old daughter, Rosabel, and is very soon on her way.

She has been sent a first class ticket for the last leg of her journey – even though it’s very unusual for a governess to travel in such luxury – and gets her first, unexpected glimpse of her new employer when he intervenes to resolve a dispute on the train. Maud knew Sir Dominic was a businessman, but hadn’t realised he’s the owner of the West Cornish Railway.

Arrived at the hall, Sir Dominic (the author makes a point of having Maud think that he should be addressed as Sir Firstname and not Sir Lastname – which is correct, so why hit readers over the head with it?) broaches a delicate subject before introducing Maud to her charge.  The last two governesses he employed had entertained “a fantasy of certain governesses that they might marry the master of the house.”  He wants to make it absolutely clear that he has no interest in remarrying and won’t tolerate any romantic notions about him on her part.  Maud quickly assures him she has absolutely no interest in anything other than educating his daughter.

To be fair to Maud, she does mean it.  But she doesn’t know she’s in a romance novel.

So, of course, romantic notions do eventually take root on both sides, but the pacing of the story is dreadfully slow, there’s so little chemistry between the characters  I’d actually put it in negative figures, and the writing is so full of overblown sentimentality and navel-gazing that I’d have been better entertained watching grass grow.  There’s no tension or forward momentum in the story at all (the only real bone of contention being that Maud is pretending to be Martha) and most of the story is devoted to Maud and Dominic busily castigating themselves for being attracted to the other, and thinking any relationship other than that of master and servant is impossible.

When they do finally kiss about two thirds of the way into the book, our hero is, of course, completely blown away and thinks it was better than any of the sex he had with his dead wife. While Maud, who –

had thought that the sensitive, previous part of her had been numbed, frozen, half-dead, unable to come alive.

(Not to belabour a point, of course.)

Starts to feel all those tingly feminine feelings rushing back.

Oh, puhleeze.

And naturally, Maud is the sort of governess who could put Mary Poppins to shame. We’re told  she’s far more popular than any previous governess had been. Dominic tells her early on that he’s worried that Rosabel has become overly timid, and he can “barely encourage her out of doors.”  But hey, whaddya know?  On her very first morning, Maud gets Rosabel outside to release a butterfly into the garden, and from that moment, she’s outside almost all the time, and Dominic’s fears are forgotten.  Maud makes up stories about butterflies every night, they go butterfly hunting by day, Dominic buys a vivarium for the butterflies… so yes, if you’re not fascinated by butterflies (or railways), you’re not going to have a lot of fun with this book.  Actually, that’s probably true even if you are fascinated by butterflies or railways.

There’s an evil Other Woman who has all the subtlety of a pantomime villain – she crops up to be nasty to Maud and taunt her with her plans to marry Dominic (she makes Blanche Ingram appear pleasant by comparison). Dominic speaks in info dumps about railways half the time and while I appreciated Maud’s dedication to the cause of female education, her speech to the evil OW near the end was preachy and only needed a flashing neon sign saying ‘important message here.’

As I said at the beginning, Harlequin has some terrific authors of historical romance in its stable who are able to write engaging stories, rounded characters and believable, well-developed romances within the shorter page-count generally allocated to the category romance – and I’m not going to let this dud put me off reading them.  But I’d advise giving The Master’s New Governess a miss.

Ricochet (Out for Justice #1) by Reese Knightley (audiobook) – Narrated by Tristan James

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

WITSEC victim Noah Bradford knows secrets that could get him killed, and staying hidden seems like a good plan. What he didn’t plan on is losing his heart to a man who is sworn to protect him.

Battle scarred US Marshal Robert “Mac” Mackenzie has a job to do, and guaranteeing the safety of Noah Bradford is at the top of that list. Mac will do whatever it takes to keep Noah safe, even if it means walking away.

Mac and Noah, brought together during extreme circumstances, have been separated by evil. It’s been six years, give or take, and Noah is coming for vengeance against the men who killed his mother. He’s on a collision course with Mac, who has no idea of the man Noah has become. Sparks fly and the heat sizzles when these two powerful men are reunited, but will they survive the passion the past created?

Rating: Narration – B-; Content – D+

I liked the sound of Ricochet, the first in new-to-me author Reese Knightley’s Out for Justice series of romantic suspense novels featuring a team of elite operatives known as Phoenix. I hadn’t, when I requested the title, realised it was the author’s début book – not that I have anything against first-time authors, in fact, I’ve found some terrific stories and authors to look out for by reading or listening to débuts – but sadly, this author and this book don’t fall into that category. The story itself feels like a bare-bones outline that needs a lot of fleshing out; there are elements of the storytelling that just don’t work, the characterisation is thin, there’s way too much telling and not enough showing, and the writing itself is distinctly average and could have used a good editor to weed out the annoying repetitions and overblown, clichéd phrases.

Seventeen-year-old Noah Bradford is inducted into the Witness Protection Program after he and his best friend Jenny are rescued from the compound belonging to Terrance Manning, the vicious criminal who murdered Noah’s mother. For reasons we don’t learn until much later, Manning was intent on grooming Noah to be his second-in-command and eventual successor, but rather than treating him as some sort of favourite, he instead tried to crush Noah – in both body and spirit – at every opportunity. During the raid on the compound by the FBI, police and US Marshals, Noah is found by Marshal Rob Mackenzie (Mac) and helped to safety. Neither Manning nor his chief henchman – Noah’s stepfather – are to be found; they’ve managed to get away.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

TBR Challenge: The Mad Countess (Gothic Brides #1) by Erica Monroe

This title may be purchased from Amazon

When Lady Claire Deering’s mother enters an insane asylum, society is quick to scorn her, dubbing her the Mad Daughter. But Claire’s tattered reputation is the least of her worries, as those rumors hold a horrible, terrifying truth: the Deering women are victims of a dark witch’s curse. If Claire marries her true love, she’ll spend the rest of her life under the thrall of madness.To save herself, she remains isolated…until a will reading at a mysterious castle on All Hallows Eve places her in close confines with her dearest friend and secret love.

Bashful, scholarly Teddy Lockwood has never met a rule he didn’t rejoice in following. When he unexpectedly inherits the Ashbrooke earldom, he’s determined to turn over a new, more courageous leaf–starting with telling Claire that he’s loved her since they were children. The will reading presents the perfect opportunity to win her heart, even if he’s vastly out of his element at this enigmatic, shadowy Cornwall castle. Soon, the simmering passion between them becomes unstoppable. Now, to save the love of his life, Teddy will do whatever it takes to break the dark magic’s hold on Claire. Will Claire spend her life within the grips of strange delirium, or will love prove the strongest of all?

Rating: D

I had to dig around a bit for something to fit the “We Love Short Shorts!” prompt this time around; I know I don’t have to follow the prompts in the TBR Challenge to the letter, but I was short of time this month anyway, so a quick read was just about all I had time for.  As it was, I probably spent more time searching through the hundreds of books on my Kindle than I did actually reading!  In the end, I found a novella I’ve had sitting around for a while by an author whose books I’ve enjoyed in the past; The Mad Countess by Erica Monroe, which is billed as an edgy, atmospheric Gothic Regency Romance that’s not for the faint of heart.  Sadly, however, it was about as edgy as a bowl of cold rice pudding, and seemed to be suffering from an identity crisis.

The romance is a friends-to-lovers affair, the two protagonists being childhood friends who have long been in love with one another but are afraid to speak up for fear of losing their friendship.  And in the case of the heroine, Lady Claire Deering, there’s another, far darker reason for her reticence.  Her aunt and her mother both died mad as the result of being cursed, and she is terrified that she will end up being committed to an asylum as her mother was.  She loves Teddy – Theodore, Earl of Ashbrooke – far too much to want to saddle him with a potential madwoman for a wife and has therefore determined never to reveal the truth of her feelings for him.

Teddy had been training to be a barrister before his older brother died and left him the earldom.  He’s a sweet beta-hero who loves Claire desperately; he knows of her fears but is determined to prove to her that they are unfounded and is, at last, ready to tell her how he feels.

Claire has arrived at Castle Keyvnor in Cornwall in order to attend the reading of the will of her late uncle, and Teddy is in attendance with a group of friends (who I’m guessing are the heroes of the other novellas in this series).  In spite of her determination to keep her distance, Claire can’t help being delighted to see him, and they quickly fall back into their established pattern of friendship.  But that all changes the next day when they’re caught in a rainstorm and make it to the conveniently dry, comfortable folly/summer house and Claire decides she can allow herself an afternoon of passion (just the one, mind you).

But Teddy doesn’t just want one afternoon – how can he prove to Claire that the curse isn’t real and that they can make a life together?

Quite honestly, the pair of them were so bland I couldn’t become at all invested in the outcome and had I not been reading this for the TBR Challenge, I probably would have abandoned it.  The characterisation is one-dimensional, the atmosphere is flat as a pancake and the gothic elements are weak and terribly disappointing.  I read paranormal and fantasy novels fairly regularly, so having a supernatural element to the book didn’t put me off; the problem was the complete lack of world-building or preparation.  At one point, I thought the author was going to explain away the aunt and mother’s “madness” as a form of post-natal depression (there’s overt mention of the fact that both women didn’t go mad until after they’d had children), and that the curse wasn’t real, but she doesn’t do that, instead veering into a badly prepared episode in which Clare locates a trio of local witches and enlists their help in lifting the curse. This whole section is so different in tone to the rest of the book that it feels as though it’s been added as an afterthought.

The writing is just average, and there are quite a few jarring word choices that  took me out of the story – such as when one character asks another “are you fine?”  In that context, “fine”, doesn’t mean the same as “okay” or “alright” (not in British English, anyway).

Novellas are generally hit and miss for me (more often they miss the mark), so this disappointment wasn’t unexpected.  Ms. Monroe has produced better books than this (I’ve reviewed some of them here) so forget about The Mad Countess and check out one of those instead.

The Princess Plan (Royal Weddings #1) by Julia London

This title may be purchased from Amazon

London’s high society loves nothing more than a scandal. And when the personal secretary of the visiting Prince Sebastian of Alucia is found murdered, it’s all anyone can talk about, including Eliza Tricklebank. Her unapologetic gossip gazette has benefited from an anonymous tip off about the crime, forcing Sebastian to ask for her help in his quest to find his friend’s killer.

With a trade deal on the line and mounting pressure to secure a noble bride, there’s nothing more dangerous than a prince socialising with a commoner. Sebastian finds Eliza’s contrary manner as frustrating as it is seductive, but they’ll have to work together if they’re going to catch the culprit. And soon, as temptation becomes harder to ignore, it’s the prince who’ll have to decide what comes first—his country or his heart.

Rating: D+

I’ve read and enjoyed a number of Julia London’s books in the past, so I thought I’d give her latest title a try.  The Princess Plan is billed as a mixture of mystery and romance, in which a visiting prince teams up with a lively spinster to solve a murder and falls in love along the way.  It seemed as though it might be an enjoyable romp, but sadly wasn’t.  The mystery wasn’t mysterious, the romantic development was non-existent, it wasn’t fun and it wasn’t a romp.  Unless you define a romp as pages of inane chatter and un-funny attempts at banter that seem to exist only as a way of padding out the page count.

Miss Eliza Tricklebank is twenty-eight years of age, and a spinster who keeps house for her father, a Justice of the Queen’s Bench (who has recently lost his sight) and mends clocks to earn a little something on the side.  Her sister Hollis is a widow who inherited a publishing business from her late husband and now publishes Honeycutt’s Gazette of Fashion and Domesticity for Ladies, and her best friend Lady Caroline Hawke is a debutante (well, she’s described as such, but if she’s the same age as Hollis or Eliza then she’s quite an elderly debutante!), and together the three of them spend lots of time chattering about nothing in particular while also deciding what to put in the next edition of the Gazette.  Under discussion when the book opens, is the visit to London by a delegation from the small (fictional) country of Alucia, in London in order to negotiate a new trade agreement at the behest of its crown prince, who is rumoured to be in search of a bride.

Caroline – who, we’re told, knows everybody in London – is able to secure invitations to the masked ball held in honour of the visit for herself and her friends, and it’s here that Eliza, quietly getting tipsy on the rum punch, makes the acquaintance of a gentleman she later realises is none other than Crown Prince Sebastian.

You’re shocked, I can tell.

Flirting and silliness ensure until Sebastian has to go to put in an appearance at the meet and greet portion of the evening, after which he finds himself a woman for the night.  This means Sebastian never does go to meet with his secretary and dear friend Matous, who had told him he needed to see him as a matter of urgency.

And who turns up dead the next morning, his throat cut.

Of course the proper authorities are informed, but Sebastian isn’t impressed with the way they seem to be handling things and decides to investigate the matter himself, much to the displeasure of his brother and the rest of his staff.  And when, a day or so later, an accusation is levelled against a member of the delegation – printed in a lady’s gazette – Sebastian is furious and demands to speak with the author of such unsubstantiated rubbish.

Thus do Eliza and Sebastian find themselves investigating the murder, but the mystery – and I use the term very loosely – is so incredibly weak that it’s impossible to invest in, and the identity of the villain(s) is telegraphed early on, so it’s obvious to everyone – except Sebastian it seems, who thus comes across as really dim.  And when the mystery is solved, the reader is not present when the full extent of the plot is revealed and is merely told about it afterwards.

The romantic relationship is equally lacklustre.  There’s no emotional connection between Sebastian and Eliza, no build-up to their first kiss and absolutely no chemistry between them.  The conflict in their romance is, of course, that Sebastian is royalty and Eliza is a commoner and thus ineligible to become his wife; plus he needs to marry a woman with pedigree and connections – and Eliza has neither.  The solution to this dilemma is ridiculously convoluted and, unless corrections have been made to the ARC I read, doesn’t work.  Sebastian’s solution is to find a way to make Eliza’s father a Baron, which will make her a Lady and thus an eligible bride.  Er… no. The daughter of a Baron is not a Lady, she’s still a Miss (a Right Honourable). To be a Lady, Eliza’s father would have had to have been made an Earl at least.  Seriously, this information is available widely on the internet and it took me ten seconds to find it.

Eliza is obviously meant to be one of those ‘breath of fresh air’, quirky heroines who doesn’t abide by the rules.  She points out, for instance, that while other young ladies must be accompanied by a maid when they go out, she goes wherever she likes on her own; she stood in the middle of London without fanfare all the time. Conversely, Sebastian is hemmed in by all sorts of rules and restrictions that accompany his position – he frequently bemoans the fact that he cannot go out alone, that he has very little privacy and so on and so on… so I had to wonder why free-spirited Eliza – who sees first hand just how restricted Sebastian’s life is – would want to subject herself to the same constraints.  And Sebastian is… well, I finished the book less than an hour ago, and I can’t remember much about him at all.

The Princess Plan doesn’t work as a mystery or a romance, and the plot –such as it is – is not substantial enough to fill a full-length novel.  The characters are unmemorable, the pacing is sluggish and quite honestly, I was bored.  As an alternative to The Princess Plan, might I suggest The Watching Paint Dry Plan, or The Watching Grass Grow Plan, either of which might afford a similar level of entertainment.

The Cost of Honor (Black Ops Confidential #3) by Diana Muñoz Stewart

This title may be purchased from Amazon

He gave up everything to escape his family

The only male to be adopted into the notorious Parish family, Tony Parish always did right by his vigilante sisters. But when an attempt to protect one of them went horribly wrong, he had to fake his own death to escape his fanatical family. Tony set sail and ended up in Dominica—face to face with the woman of his dreams…

Now he must give up Honor to save her

After the death of her mother, Honor Silva moved to Dominica, where her family could help her heal and move on. But her activist mother left her more than money, she left her proof that could take down one of the richest and most powerful men in the world.

Tony gave up everything he thought he knew when he fled his family. But when a threat too dangerous for Tony and Honor to fight on their own closes in, he has no choice but to go to them for help. Problem is, they’ll demand something in return—something that could cost Tony not just Honor, but also the love that changed him forever.

Rating: D+

The Cost of Honor is book three in Diana Muñoz Stewart’s Black Ops Confidential series about a group of adoptive siblings (twenty-eight in total, all but two of them female) who were adopted by one of the world’s wealthiest women and trained in badassery to be warriors in her social justice crusade.  The story picks up after the end of the first book, I Am Justice, and focuses on one of the only male members of the Parrish ‘family’, Tony, who has got himself into hot water by going against orders so as to save his sister Justice from the possibly fatal consequences of her own rash actions.  Knowing the rest of the family will see this as a massive betrayal, he has only one way to keep body, soul and, most importantly, mind together; he fakes his own death to avoid being hauled back to the family HQ to have his memories altered.

Even though he’s managed to get away, Tony knows it’s just a matter of time before the family tracks him down, so he’s determined to keep moving.  Shortly after his escape, he travels to Dominica, where he (stupidly) goes kite boarding during a storm, gets wiped out and is saved by Honor Silva, a young woman who owns a cocoa farm where she manufactures high-grade, boutique chocolate and runs an island tour business on the side.

Having seen Lazarus Graves (as Tony has styled himself) is safe in hospital, Honor returns home to discover that someone has made an offer for the farm, hotel and tour business for an amount way in excess of what it’s actually worth, but she turns it down.  She has no desire to sell and besides, such an offer is extremely suspicious – why anyone would want to pay well over the odds for a business that is just about breaking even?  But when all but one of her regular tour guides fail to show for work and a number of ‘accidents’ start to occur on the tours,  it becomes clear that whoever made that offer is prepared to get their hands on the business by whatever means necessary.

The suspense plot in The Cost of Honor is intriguing, topical and moves at a good pace with clues revealed to the reader at the same time as the characters so we’re able to start to piece things together at the same time they are.  But this is (supposedly) a romantic suspense novel, and the low grade I’ve given it is entirely due to the clumsiness of the romance, which is unconvincing and contains more cheese than my favourite fondue recipe.  Even the term ‘insta-lust’ doesn’t adequately describe the speed at which things progress; Tony is in the hospital when the mental lusting starts (he’s specifically impressed by Honor’s boobs), and within a couple of days, the couple is pondering the amazing connection they share.  (Which isn’t shared with the reader – it’s all telling and no showing.)  The characterisation of Honor is inconsistent which made it difficult to get a handle on her.  When we first meet her, she’s contrasting her own cautious personality with her late mother’s bold, go-getter ways and told she secretes away her heart and her true desires.  But within  a day or two of meeting Tony,  she’s ordering him to get onto his knees and go down on her, and he’s thinking of her as a ballbuster – which just didn’t fit the initial picture the author paints of Honor as cautious and somewhat reserved.

The novel is full of clichéd dialogue and laughable statements .  I made note of many such instances on my Kindle, but here are a few of the highlights:

Tony is turned on by Honor’s driving skills:

“Honor, you catch my breath.  The way you drive.  The way you pause in the road right before a dip.  It’s like you’re one with the earth.”

In an attempt at banter worthy of any Carry On film:

“I can’t wait to get my lips around your recipes.”

(Oooh, er, Matron!)

During a discussion about the level of danger to Honor and trusting each other, Honor says:

“Are you sure, Laz? You barely know me.  I mean, we haven’t even slept together yet.”

Huh?

And when they do get busy between the sheets, she says right out that they don’t need to use a condom because she’s on the pill and hasn’t had sex in two years.  She’s known the man for a couple of days.

And this made me laugh so hard.  After Honor gives Tony the Best BJ EVAH, he asks:

“What can I do for you, Honor? What can I do to show you… to make this moment last forever in your mind? Last for all the days that I won’t be here?”

Hm.  Now let me see.  What should she ask for?  Reciprocation? To be thrown down and taken hard and fast?  Breakfast?  Diamonds? Nah.

She asks him to DANCE FOR HER.

WTF?  I’m pretty sure the response to that request from most blokes would be “are you ‘avin’ a laugh?”

The Cost of Honor doesn’t work as a romance or as a standalone, as so much of Tony’s backstory is obviously tied to previous books in the series and the opening of the novel is quite confusing as a result.  The suspense plot is decent (ish) although towards the end, it’s overstuffed with both characters and plotpoints. But what really sinks the novel is the complete lack of romantic chemistry and the poor-execution of the romantic storyline.  I keep picking up romantic suspense novels by new and new-to-me authors in the hope of finding something to really capture my attention and sadly, am disappointed more often than not.  Give this one a wide berth.

TBR Challenge: The Hidden Heart by Gayle Buck

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Unrequited love: The Earl of Walmesley does the unthinkable. He asks a dear friend to risk her reputation to save him from a matrimonial trap. Lady Caroline Eddingotn has always loved Miles Trilby. She would do anything for him. But – enter into a false betrothal? She is mad to agree. She risks more than her place in society. She risks her heart.

Rating: D+

I often find myself reaching for a Traditional Regency when it comes to the “Sweet or Spicy” prompt.  Most of the romances I read these days contain sex scenes, so I tend to interpret the “spicy” part of the prompt to mean something beyond that, like erotica or erotic romance, and I don’t have anything from either genre on my TBR – hence my gravitating to the “sweet” side of the prompt.

The Hidden Heart was originally published by Signet in 1992, and is billed as a fake-relationship story wherein the hero, Miles, Earl of Walmesley (who is, for some reason also referred to throughout as Lord Trilby which confused me at first, as I thought the author was talking about two different characters!), needing to forestall his imposing great aunt’s plans to wed him to a young lady he has never met, asks his best friend, Lady Caroline Eddington, to pose as his betrothed for the duration of his aunt’s upcoming visit. Lady Caroline has – of course – been in love with Miles for years, but has abandoned any hope of anything more than friendship, while Miles is  – also of course – completely oblivious to her feelings.  Caroline is a great heroine, but overall, The Hidden Heart was a bit of a disappointment.  Caro and Miles spend very little time together on the page, and the romance is practically non-existent; in fact, it feels as though the author got to the end of the book and thought “Oh no! I forgot to get Caro and Miles together – I’ve got a couple of pages left, so I’ll do it now!”

When Miles initially asks Caro to act as his fiancée during his great aunt, the Grand-duchess of Schaffenzeits’ visit, she turns him down, fully cognizant of the detrimental effect such a thing could have on her reputation if it’s ever discovered.  Miles does realise he’s asking a lot (but he asks anyway) and isn’t completely surprised by his friend’s refusal – but when the duchess arrives early, he asks again – and this time Caro, in a moment of weakness engendered by the continual and highly unpleasant sniping of her aunt and the importuning of an unwanted and far too persistent suitor (who can’t understand that no means no) agrees to help Miles out.

The predictability of the story is countered somewhat by the character of Caro, who does not waste her time pining for Miles or allow herself to be bullied by her aunt.  She is cool and capable most of the time, able to squash her aunt’s pretentions and turn her barbed remarks back on her with poise and ease, even though it’s clear that she does find her presence difficult to deal with at times; in fact, watching Caro deal with her aunt was one of the things I enjoyed most about the book!  I also liked the fact that the author doesn’t turn Caro’s new sister-in-law into a complete bitch who wants Caro out of the house because she doesn’t want any competition.  The Grand-duchess is a wily grande dame, but Miles himself is poorly characterised and is actually hardly present in the story.  He failed to make much of an impression on me; all I really knew about him was that he had a reputation for being a bit irresponsible, and that he’s being pretty selfish when he asks Caro to pretend to be engaged to him.  When he and Caro do finally fall into each other’s arms at the end of the book, he spins her a yarn about how seeing a friend destroyed by love caused him to never want to experience it and then uses that to explain why he never showed any sign of feeling more for Caro than friendship, it was utterly ridiculous and came completely out of nowhere.  I suppose Caroline got what she wanted in the end, but no way was Miles good enough for her.

TL:DR. The Hidden Heart was a dud.  I liked the heroine, but pretty much everyone else –including the hero – was awful.  There are better Trads out there than this one.

Cold Conspiracy (Eagle Mountain Murder Mystery: Winter Storm Wedding #3) by Cindi Myers

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

The body count is mounting.

And a deputy is the killer’s next target.

Capturing the Ice Cold Killer is the greatest challenge Eagle Mountain has ever seen. Thankfully, Deputy Jamie Douglas is determined to see justice done. Nate Hall is visiting for a wedding, and the vacationing lawman is more than willing to help. As a blizzard ravages the town, keeping everyone trapped with a killer, evidence begins to accumulate about a mysterious conspiracy. Can Jamie and Nate get to the truth before more innocent people wind up dead?

Rating: D+

When I first started reviewing for All About Romance, I reviewed mostly historical romance – which has always been my favourite genre – and added in the odd romantic suspense title here and there for a bit of variety.  These days I read a lot more RS, although most of it is m/m, as I have found only a small number of authors (Loreth Anne White and Rachel Grant, to name but two) who can successfully (and consistently) combine both romance and suspense into a satisfying m/f story without compromising on either element. I suspect the prevalence – in m/m – of series with long running story arcs which allow for more plot and romantic development may have something to do with that, but whatever the reason, that’s my precursor to saying that much of the m/f romantic suspense I read these days isn’t particularly romantic or suspenseful, and  Cold Conspiracy by Cindi Myers is yet another example of RS-fail.

It’s the third book in the Eagle Mountain Murder Mystery: Winter Storm Wedding series, and the suspense plot centres around the search for a serial killer who is targeting young women and who leaves a calling card on each victim with the words “Ice Cold” printed on it.  I haven’t read the previous two books in the series, but in this one, the community of Eagle Mountain is cut off due to heavy snow, and while it’s believed that the main suspects in the murders had left before the roads had to be closed, the discovery of a new victim shows that not to be the case.

Sheriff’s deputy Jamie Douglas and her younger sister Donna are driving home when they come across a car stopped at the side of the road.  Jamie – who is off duty – is reluctant to stop, given there’s a murderer at large, but Donna is adamant that they must, so they backtrack and discover the Ice Cold Killer’s latest victim – the sixth – laid back in her car seat, her throat cut.

 

Jamie isn’t too pleased when the first person to arrive in response to her calling it in is wildlife officer Nate Hall, her high-school sweetheart and the man who, seven years earlier, broke her heart when he left Eagle Mountain to go to college elsewhere.  Now he’s back, he makes it clear that he still cares for Jamie and would like, at the very least, to be friends, but Jamie rebuffs his attempts to engage her on anything other than a professional level. After her parent’s deaths a few years earlier, Jamie has devoted herself to looking after Donna – who has Down Syndrome – and to her job, and isn’t willing to risk her heart, knowing it would be too easy to fall for Nate all over again if she doesn’t try to maintain some sort of distance.

The search for the Ice Cold Killer spans the series, so there’s no resolution to that storyline in this book, although there is progression in that the identity of the perpetrator has been discovered by the end, ready for things to be wrapped up in the next one.  But any feeling of suspense that the author attempts to create is completely destroyed by the way she telegraphs every single development, so there is no tension and absolutely nothing comes as a surprise.  Jamie, supposedly a well-trained law-enforcement professional doesn’t think to call in the license plate of the victim’s car, and on at least one occasion blushes and fights to “keep her voice steady” when speaking up in a meeting to put forward her views and ideas – one of which is to use herself to bait the killer, so yeah, maybe she should have felt a bit silly suggesting that one.  And Nate is just… there.  A few hours after finishing the book, I can’t think of a single thing about him that stood out, and all I can remember about him is his name and that he spends most of the book on crutches after an ankle injury, which seemed a really odd choice for a hero in a romantic suspense novel.

And the romance? Isn’t.  Jamie does a complete U-turn, from being very stand-offish and wanting to have as little to do with Nate as possible to: “I know if I turn my back on these feelings – if I don’t give us this chance – then I’m going to regret it” and jumping into bed with him.  Huh? What feelings?  I didn’t observe any feelings whatsoever other than her being snippy with him at pretty much every opportunity. There’s no build-up, no relationship development and no chemistry between them whatsoever.

I wanted to mention the portrayal of Donna, who is nineteen years old and high-functioning.  One of the things the author does well is to show Jamie’s struggle with her instincts to protect Donna from everything while also knowing that she’s an adult and needs to have a degree of independence.  I can’t say how accurate or otherwise Ms. Myers’ depiction of Donna is though.

I realise that authors don’t always have a say in their book titles, but surely, If you’re going to call a novel Cold Conspiracy, then shouldn’t there actually be some sort of conspiracy in it? That’s another thing that’s missing, as is any kind of clear motivation for the Ice Cold Killer, or any feeling of menace surrounding them.  With wishy-washy characters, no suspense and no romance, Cold Conspiracy is just… stone cold dead.

Her Steadfast Hero/Her Devoted Hero (Black Dawn #1 & #2) by Caitlyn O’Leary (audiobook) – Narrated by Aiden Snow

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Her Steadfast Hero (Book 1)

When the hospital is overrun by the most brutal of convicts that escaped during the earthquake, and an American doctor is held for ransom, the Navy SEAL unit Black Dawn is called in. Can David Sloane and Black Dawn rescue Dr. Carys Adams before it is too late? Through all the turmoil will David and Sarah realize that their time has finally come, and they were meant to be together?

Her Devoted Hero (Book 2)

When one of her co-workers is murdered and it looks like Kenna might be the next one in the killer’s crosshairs, Dex is determined to keep her safe. But with a target on her back, it’s really hard to keep a shield over her heart.

Rating: Narration: B; Content: D/C

This audiobook consists of instalments one and two in Caitlyn O’Leary’s Black Dawn series of romantic suspense stories featuring the Black Dawn Navy SEAL team. I’m a fan of the genre and am always on the lookout for new titles to listen to, plus Aiden Snow is a very experienced narrator, so I thought I’d give these stories a try. In the end, I found Her Devoted Hero to be the more enjoyable of the two; the story was more interesting and the romance a little better developed, while Her Steadfast Hero suffered from what I call “novella-itis” in that it felt rushed and everything – plot, characterisation and romance –were very superficial.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.